Northern Panhandle Head Start No. 4 students got the chance to share a spaghetti dinner with their fathers, uncles or grandfathers - and in some cases all three - at the school Wednesday.
Teacher Valerie Whetsell started the annual event in 2002 at the Head Start, located in the North Park neighborhood of Wheeling. Next month will be the mothers' turn, she said.
"Without nutrition, learning doesn't begin," Whetsell said.
Photo by Shelley Hanson/Maleah Peterson, 4, poses with her uncle James McCardle of Benwood during the Head Start No. 4 dinner in Wheeling.
After eating their spaghetti and an angel food cake dessert, the children did a craft project that involved painting the letters of their name on wood blocks. Wheeling resident Josh Hoffman participated with his son Austin, 3.
"It's definitely fun to hang around with my son," Hoffman said. "I took the day off work to spend time with him."
Whetsell said the activity is important because many children do not get a lot of one-on-one time with their fathers.
"Breaking bread in a family style dinner is good for us," she said.
She said while the children are preschool-aged, they already have a natural inclination to share, and the meal allows them to practice those skills. For example, one student offered to share her father with another child whose father could not attend the event.
Whetsell said she was pleased with this year's turnout.
"The dads love it - they can't wait for it to happen," she said.
Assistant teacher Mary Blake said she too enjoys seeing the children interact with their fathers, grandfathers or uncles.
"Getting the parents involved is tremendous," she said.
Northern Panhandle Head Start serves pregnant women and families with children, birth to 5 years old in Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties.